Baltimore gets high marks, but officials--and parents-- say there's a long way to go

January 31, 1991|By Holly Selby

Try telling Angie Williams that Baltimore is one of the five best cities nationwide in which to find day care, as rated by experts for an article in February's issue of Working Mother magazine.

The magazine said the city has made significant strides in the field of child care, becoming one of the "places where working parents can get the best care for their children."

But when Ms. Williams tried to get her 4-year-old son, Omar, into a day-care center recently, she was turned down -- by all three places where she'd applied.

Two centers refused to admit Omar because they don't accept payment that comes via social services funding; one had no spaces left, she says.

"I was almost in tears," says Ms. Williams, who is a cashier in Towson. "Icouldn't afford $65 to $70 a week in day care" -- approximately what she'd pay without social services funding. "At those prices, I might as well stay home."

Such contrasts illustrate that, although Baltimore may be in the forefront of national efforts to provide quality day care to children, "you've got to look at both sides of it," says Sandra Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Committee for Child Care Inc., a children's advocacy group.

On the one hand, Baltimore has made great strides toward good child care, say experts. And on the other, Baltimore -- as well as other cities -- has a long way to go before quality day care is accessible to all children. More spaces and higher salaries for child care givers are on the list of things local experts say are needed.

"It's very important to give accolades to those who are really trying and I feel Baltimore is," says Working Mother panel member Ellen Galinsky, co-president of Families and Work Institute, a New York nonprofit clearinghouse that does research on industry, government and family efforts to balance work and family. But, she adds, "it just points out the difference between what we call excelling and what excelling should really be."

Nonetheless, Ms. Skolnik says, "the goal of the award was to recognize that in some places a lot is happening around the child care issue and I think that's true here. There has been an enormous effort on the part of the governor and the mayor to make sure children get good day care."

Baltimore, along with Irvine (Calif.), Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Seattle, received top ratings from a panel of four child-care experts who studied a national survey conducted by the magazine. Criteria consideredincluded availability of funds, 1b number of before- and after-school programs and cutting through red tape to help child care providers get licenses.

The award shows that "we've done as well as we possibly can with the funds that are available," says Myra Breskow Schein, child care coordinator in the Mayor's Office for Children and Youth. Having a designated child-care coordinator such as Ms. Schein was also one of the criteria considered by the panel.

Among other efforts singled out by the magazine: Mayor Kurt Schmoke's '87 inaugural speech stating quality child care was a top priority; the increase -- from 50 to 89 -- in school-age programs, KIDSLINE, a city-funded comfort and advice phone line used by up to 1,000 latchkey children a month, and city-run recruitment and incentive programs that make it easier to become licensed as a family care provider.

Another local advance is the Maryland Child Care Resource Network, which opened this week to provide information to parents searching for child care, businesses helping employees find child care and child-care workers looking for training. The network has three locations -- Baltimore, Hagerstown and Landover -- and is designed to improve existing programs and support development efforts.

In addition, 500 parents and professionals are expected to attend the mayor's third annual conference on child care March 9. And several businesses have pledged their help, including IBM and ADP, Inc., which have pledged $2,500 each toward the conference, says Ted Childs, program director of Work/Life programs for IBM United States.

But despite exemplary efforts, say local child care experts, the battle for quality day care often seems far from won. "The point to make is with all of this work that we're all doing, we're treading water just to keep pace. With all of this work, with everybody going crazy trying to find ways to help, we are just keeping even," says Ms. Skolnik.

For example, Ms. Williams' experience is not unusual, says Lucille Nass, director of Council Day Care Demonstration and Training Center at Towson State University, which eventually accepted Omar when another child dropped out.

"Quality day care for the working poor is not accessible," Ms. Nass says. And it's difficult for parents whose salaries fall in the $15,000 to $25,000 range: "I simply do not know how they make ends meet."

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